Spicy Bacon Jam

“Now, just hold it right there,” you’re thinking.  “Bacon jam?  Jam, like the sweet spread one puts on their morning toast and eats for breakfast?”

Well, not exactly.  But pretty darn close.  This…condiment…as I’ll call it, is TOTALLY DELICIOUS.  And totally worthy of being eaten with a crusty piece of bread, on pork chops or roast chicken, or hell…spooned right out of the jar and into your mouth.  Get creative with its use.  I could see a spoonful going into a pot of chili or tomato soup, in a batch of marinara, or maybe even whisked into a vinaigrette.

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Now, I am aware that bacon, as an ingredient, may have run its course.  What with bacon on doughnuts, in cakes, and infused in vodkas.  But you know what, I’m okay with bacon.  Bacon and I have a healthy relationship.  We don’t see much of each other, but when we do, it’s quality.  I bring out the best in bacon and in return, bacon will always have a place in my culinary repertoire.

Let me tell you that this jam is dead simple to make and you may, in fact, have many of the ingredients already on hand, just waiting to come together and make your house smell amazing.  I chose to finish this jam off in the slow cooker, but if you don’t have one (really, why don’t you have one?  they’re so great!) you can simply finish it off in a saucepan on the stove.  Just keep an eye on it so it doesn’t scorch.

Feel free, also, to play around with the flavors.  Taste as you go along.  Especially if spice isn’t your thing.  I increased a few things, and toned down a few others, but overall, I think this batch of bacon jam is perfect and I can’t wait to make more.  It yields about 2 1/2 cups of jam, so please, share with your bacon-loving friends and family.  They’ll appreciate it.

Spicy Bacon Jam
Yields about 2 1/12 cups

** Remember, many of these ingredient amounts can be increased or decreased.  Don’t stress if you don’t have the exact type or amount.  Substitute if you have to.  I’ll still love you for it.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds pepper bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 whole large onion (yellow or white), diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt (if not using pepper bacon, use 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, as well)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/4 cup grade B maple syrup
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee

Method:

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat.  Add the bacon pieces and cook, stirring occasionally and rendering all of the fat.  You want the bacon to be slightly crispy, but not burned to a crisp.  This will take a while due to the volume of bacon being cooked.  Just be patient and enjoy the aroma filling your kitchen.

When the bacon is cooked, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon to to a paper towel-lined plate to drain more of the fat.  Pour off the remaining bacon fat from the pan, reserving for later.  Seriously, save it.  It’s pure gold.  Put it in an empty jam jar and put it in your fridge.  Use it to fry potatoes or anything else you want to infuse with bacony goodness.

Return your skillet back to the heat and add the butter, onions, and garlic.  Let them begin to sweat, stirring and cooking on medium heat until they are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Try not to bring too much color to them.

Add the salt and pepper (if using), along with the brown sugar.  Stir well, and allow the sugar to melt into the onions.  Resist the urge to stop there and just eat the caramelized onions.  Mmmm.  Remember you have a mission and forge on toward your goal!

After a few minutes, add the rest of the ingredients, stir, and let the mixture come to a boil.  Toss in the reserved bacon and stir to combine.

Now is the time when you can put the mixture in a slow cooker, like I did.  If you use a slow cooker, cook it on low heat for at least 3 hours, stirring occasionally.  If you don’t have a slow cooker, place mixture in saucepan and cook on low heat on your stove top.  You may find that you’ll cook it for a shorter period of time on the stove top, but honestly, I don’t know.  I love the convenience of a slow cooker.  Just turn it on and walk away!

After 3 hours, use your immersion blender to blend the mixture to the desired consistency.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, a regular blender or food processor will work just as well.  You’re going for a jam-like consistency, with visible bits of bacon running throughout.  Don’t go too far or you’ll just have bacon paste, and that doesn’t sound nearly as appetizing, does it?

After blending, put mixture in a saucepan and cook on the stove over medium heat until most (if not all) of the liquid has evaporated.  You want spreadable, gorgeous bacon jam here.  Be sure to stir along the way and adjust the heat as necessary.  You don’t want to scorch it after you’ve gone to all this work to produce something so lovely.

Place mixture in a sealed container (or share with your friends and family).  This can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

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Happy Christmas!

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Aren’t we the cutest?  From L to R: Truman, my lovely husband Scott, Fischer, me, and Jackie.  Photo courtesy of The Mullers.

What you’re about to read is an obligatory holiday blog post.  I, like many others, spent the last two weeks prepping and cooking in anticipation of Christmas.  My goal is always to have a fun and relaxing time in the kitchen – preparing edible gifts for my friends and family.  The vision I have in my imagination is me, swiftly moving from task to task while Bing Crosby sings about white Christmases in the background.  Inevitably, though, I get in over my head and the kitchen ends up looking like a flour bomb went off and I’m huffing and puffing trying to keep up.

This year I really tried to keep it simple.  For my family I made:

For my friends I made:

  • Bourbon vanilla ice cream with buttered pecans
  • Chocolate banana ice cream
  • Zinfandel gelato
  • Pepper bacon jam
  • A loaf of challah bread for a holiday party
  • Chocolate gingerbread cake

Wow.  Now that I read the lists, I realize I may not have kept it simple.  But you know what?  It’s the holiday season, and I like to cook and bake for my friends and family.  I think edible gifts are really the best way to go.  As we get older, it’s harder and harder to find things to buy for people, so I would much rather go this route.  Even if you’re not a professional chef or baker, you can still get in the kitchen and whip up a batch of something delicious.  Wrap it in butcher paper, tie it with kitchen twine, and slap a pretty tag on it.  Boom.  Gift done.

I hope you all had a lovely holiday and were able to spend it with those you love while eating and drinking delicious things.

Orange Spiced Cashews
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

2 1/2 cups whole cashews (unsalted)
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.  In a large bowl, mix cashews with corn syrup until evenly coated.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine salt, zest, ginger, coriander, cumin, and cayenne.  Sprinkle mixture over cashews and mix until evenly coated.  Transfer mixture to one of the prepared baking sheets; spread in a single layer, separating nuts the best you can.

Bake until the nuts are golden and the syrup is bubbling, about 15 minutes.  Immediately transfer nut to the other baking sheet.  Separate cashews; let cool.

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Pistachio and Cranberry Biscotti

A few things have happened in the last week.  First, a week ago today I turned 33-years-old.  I treated myself to a manicure and my lovely husband treated me to dinner at my favorite Indian restaurant in town.  Second, my fall semester finally ended last week and I have to say that I am pleased with my grades so far (one grade is still not posted – gah!).  This last semester was tough, I won’t lie.  It was tough academically and it was tough culinarily.  I feel like I neglected the blog more than I was comfortable with and I apologize to the few of you out there that follow it.

But…I’m back!  It’s officially winter break and I’ve spent pretty much every day in the kitchen.  Just where I want to be on chilly Nebraska days.  We also got our first snow, so it looks extra wintery out there.

Every year our dear friends Sarah and Matthew throw a holiday soup party at their home.  And every year it is a lot of work for Sarah because she prepares all the soups (at least four).  This year, I offered my services and she accepted.  I am always happy to help Sarah, as she has helped me in so many different ways.

For the soup offerings, I prepared a creamy asparagus soup, which I’ve written about before.  For the party, I made it without the sausage.  However, I did make a soup with spicy chorizo, chickpeas, and kale, so sausage made an appearance.

And of course, I brought dessert.  On the menu was a Dobos torte, a banana bread bundt cake with bourbon buttermilk glaze, and pistachio and cranberry biscotti with white chocolate.  That is what I want to talk about right now.  Biscotti.

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Challah Bread

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Things have been really busy around here since Thanksgiving.  I’m right in the middle of finals, so writing a final paper on The Picture of Dorian Gray is proving to be much more important than blogging about what silly things I’m trying in the kitchen.

However, I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I decided to take a break and do something I really enjoy: bake bread.

I had all the ingredients I needed to pull off a loaf of Challah, but the question wasn’t ingredients, the question was technique.  Bread takes patience, the right temperature and environment to rise, and it takes a bit of intuition to know when to stop kneading the dough.  If only I could bake bread for my final grade in my Critical Approaches to Literature class!

Challah is a traditional loaf of braided egg bread served on the Sabbath and on holidays.  I’ve tried making challah before, but for whatever reason, it didn’t turn out.  This time I was determined.

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Okay, so I know my strands of dough are not perfectly uniform, but hey, so what?  The smell of bread rising in my kitchen must have clouded my ability to separate the dough into “equal” pieces.

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